IT WASN'T ABOUT revenge. But it was payback all the same.
At last month's NCAA indoor championships, Tennessee's Sarah Bowman passed Michigan's Nicole Edwards in the stretch to win the women's Distance Medley Relay. Yesterday at Franklin Field, it came down to those two in the marquee first-day Championship of America event at the Penn Relays Carnival. Only this time, it was Bowman who led with a half-lap to go in the closing 1,600-meter leg. And Edwards who did the outkicking from there.
"It's not so much about getting even, at least [not] for me," said Edwards, a redshirt junior from Western Canada. "I just want to win every time. That's always what I want. Sometimes, it's more realistic than other times. If she's the person in front of me, then obviously I want to beat her. I'm sure it's the same thing for her."
Last April, Bowman outraced Villanova's Frances Koons to the line. Michigan didn't even enter the DMR here last year but won the 4 x 1,500 meters and the 4 x 800. This year, they're skipping the latter.
"We just don't want to bite off more than we can chew," explained associate head coach Mike McGuire. "We think we had the personnel last year [to run in all three], but we decided long before that we had some people with injury history, and we didn't want to overextend it. So we picked two.
"This year, same thing. We have some people who we think can go beyond the collegiate season. We're trying to balance our demands we put on these young ladies. All those decisions were talked about. There's a rhyme and reason to it. Months ago, we were pretty sure we were only going to run two. And we knew it was probably these two, 6 or 8 weeks out."
Michigan's time of 10 minutes, 49.58 seconds was the second-fastest ever. Villanova's 10:48.38, set in 1988, remains the standard. But the Wolverines did break a school record by nearly 10 seconds.
Freshman Danielle Tauro, from South Jersey, started it off with a 3:22.2 in the 1,200. Serita Williams, the lone senior in the group, followed with a 53.4 in the 400. And Geena Gall covered the 800 in 2:02.1, which left the Wolverines in a virtual dead heat for the lead. But Edwards was content to let Bowman run in front, if only by the slimmest of margins. At least until the final turn.
"I felt like I was in good position," Edwards said. "[Bowman's] an extremely talented runner. I was just doing my best to hang on, keep up with her. She set a really tough pace. I didn't want to go too soon. But I felt strong. I felt like I was ready to make my move."
And the Vols (10:50.51) had to settle for almost. Nobody else was even close. Penn (11:08.83) was sixth, just ahead of Villanova (11:09.48).
But for Koons, the fourth-year Wildcat junior, this was about much more than times, even though her anchor leg of 4:34.6 was a personal best. Last summer, she had successful surgery to remove a cancerous growth from her kidney. She found out she had the disease at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which is a short walk from Franklin Field.
The moment belonged to the victors. But Koons' knowing smile was just as memorable.
"There's not a word in the dictionary that can describe the excitement I feel to be part of this atmosphere," she insisted. "To be here, to be healthy, puts it all behind me now. The last time I was on this track, I was in flip-flops and a skirt, after I was diagnosed. I took one lap around. The track was completely empty. But I kind of closed my eyes, and I could feel the cheers, getting me pumped up for this. You know, the 'Nova kids, wonderfully obnoxious, screaming their head off. I used that as a motivator, every mile I put in.
"I was at ground zero, really. But everything [I did] pointed to this. It's pretty cool to be fulfilling that dream. I really tried to come out and give it my best, wherever you're running. Eventually, you'll be tested. I want to be ready for that.
"On paper, we knew we weren't the [best] team. But tomorrow [in the 4 x 1,500], we should be more formidable. But I loved being out there again. I'm so thankful. A couple of months ago, I wasn't sure I would be. So it's pretty cool place to be right now."
It's cool for the ones holding the trophy. And for those who, at too young an age, have a renewed sense of their very being.
"When your health is at stake, you have to take it very seriously," Koons said. "You listen to the best advice. As an athlete, and a competitor, your instinct is to go. I struggled at times. But I really stuck to the plan. And I'm glad I did. Look at where I am."